Ruth Barker is an artist and mother, fearful of becoming voiceless. Not because she suffers from any physical condition or phobia of talking (‘selective mutism’), but as a result of her experience of traumatic childbirth, and what she describes as the ‘rapidly changing and brutal politics’ of the present. Motherhood, illness, physical vulnerability and the economic conditions of contemporary Britain are all rapidly coalescing to render her publicly mute. Indeed, many women could perhaps relate to such a fear, as levels of gender equality within society have, by some measures, worsened over recent years.
To coincide with the launch of a new joint exhibition between Barker and fellow artist Hannah Leighton-Boyce at Castlefield Gallery, and as part of Wonder Women 2018, Barker will premiere her latest performance; If this if the last thing I say? – an assemblage of spoken word and sound, which draws upon these experiences. Described as being in equal parts lament, commentary, and logistical nightmare.
As with much of Barker’s work, If this if the last thing I say? will manifest as an intense and potent mix of autobiography, textual research and gut response; using the hypnotic power of the voice to immerse the audience within a meditative yet distracted atmosphere. References to ancient mythology, gods, goddesses and humanity’s oldest stories will interweave threads of personal trauma and everyday experience. While Barker’s own breath and infant’s babble will off-set a sonic meditation inspired by the experimental composer, electronic music pioneer and founder of ‘Deep Listening’, Pauline Oliveros, performed and recorded by children from Clarendon Road Primary School, in Eccles (Salford).
If this if the last thing I say? looks set to provide an urgent reminder of the vital importance of one’s voice, of being heard, and of having the freedom to express. A set of conditions that should never be taken for granted, as the event’s place within this year’s Wonder Women programme reminds us.
The event falls on International Women’s Day and will coincide with the preview of Ruth Barker & Hannah Leighton-Boyce.